• Emily Holland

Being Gentle With Yourself

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

The deer is an important symbol to me.

I was a few months into therapy and we were talking about some relationship dynamics, some resentments I was harboring, when I noticed movement outside the window and got distracted. My therapist noticed and asked me what I saw.

It was a family of deer, grazing in the field outside my therapy center. Moving slowly, but alert to everything around them. I felt calmer watching them, some of the tension in my body releasing.

Being the great therapist she is, she asked me what I noticed about them, how seeing them made me feel. At first, my inner jerk (which remains a large part of my outer personality), thought ‘they’re fucking deer, dude, move on.’

But the other, more open part of my brain forced myself to go with it.

Deer have always been a big part of my life. Growing up in Upstate New York, hunting season was a big part of life. Not for me, but our neighbors would come onto our property (which is a 10-acre Christmas tree farm), and hunt. They also love to chew Christmas trees, but when they do, the tree will turn orange, deeming it unsellable, so my dad was never a big fan of them.

Either way, they’re deer. We see them all the time. They were equivalent to chipmunks and squirrels in my mind, just another animal I had come to not really notice.

But I dug deep, trying to be the best therapy patient ever, and I told my therapist that they made me feel calm, but more than that, the word that came to mind was gentle. They were gentle creatures, who were often vulnerable, but nonetheless, moved slowly, kept their families intact, and were, in fact, quite beautiful, now that I was really taking the time to notice them.

And so, we talked more about how these deer could be a symbol for me moving forward. Whenever I was feeling frustrated with people in my life, I would try to envision the deer. It went so far as my boyfriend putting his fingers up near his head, mimicking a deer, when he saw me starting to get heated, to remind me to come back to gentleness.

More than being gentle with other people in my life, I used the symbol of the deer to remind myself to be gentle to me. And just like every great story in therapy, I thought I had become the most enlightened being ever. I thought I was beyond explosive reactions and pent up emotions. I was very wrong.

I’ve been producing a new podcast, Nature Untold, and it has been the most meaningful work of my life. I am hosting, producing and editing it myself, all things I have never done on my own. And I was feeling pretty good about it.

Until I realized I made a huge mistake on an episode I had worked hours on, cutting it down and making it sound good, just for the sound to end up distorted. I hate technology in the first place and don’t understand how to use it, so I was immediately frustrated. And when my boyfriend came downstairs to try to help me, I burst into tears.

“No one is going to listen to this,” “it’s not going to be good quality, I’ve been talking it up and now people will hate it,” and my favorite “why did I think I could do this?” I threw the laptop at him, ran upstairs and promptly threw our weighted blanket over my entire body. I was reacting in a way a small child would, but I just couldn’t reign it in.

He came upstairs, soothed me and told me it was important that I get it out to the world, reassuring me. I had calmed down, but I still felt as though I was going to come out of my skin. I got ready and ran out the door, heading to one of my regular after-work trail running spots.

I climbed up the first 1.5 miles of Mount Sanitas and turned on the path to Lion’s lair, my favorite section of trail in all of Boulder. Mostly because it’s downhill, but also because it’s beautiful, okay?!

As I was barreling down the switchbacks, thinking about this new show, what it means to me, and trying to stay present in the moment, I started to see movement up ahead of me. I rounded a corner and saw a family of deer right in front of me on the trail. I slowed, used my annoying only-for-dogs-and-cute-animals voice to soothe them off the trail without spooking them. I moved past them a bit, and then I turned around.

The fluffiest, cutest one of the bunch, had gotten back on the trail and was staring at me. The sun was starting to set and the sky was becoming deep blue above the trees. We looked at each other for a while, I tried to breathe deeply and remain in it.

I couldn’t help but feel overcome with emotions. Here I was, needing a sign to be kind to myself, to remain gentle, and it showed up right in front of me. I snapped a picture because I wanted to have this moment to come back to, and I kept running down the trail, tears streaming down my cheeks while smiling. I must have looked like a mad woman. I didn’t care.

This may seem like such a small moment, and to some degree, it was. But it was one of the rare ones that you can fully notice and appreciate how far you’ve come. I used to be so unfairly hard on myself, saying things to myself I would never say to anyone I loved. And here I was, allowing myself grace and growth, even though it was hard.

The deer is an even more important symbol to me now. A reminder to stay gentle and vulnerable, when a world wants us to be harsh and cruel, especially to ourselves.

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